Five years ago Kenya was in the headlines because of bloody ethnic conflict. One thousand three hundred people died and 350,000 had to leave their homes in the fighting that erupted over disputed elections.
The worst violence in 2007 was in the Great Rift Valley. This valley – one of the world’s most wildlife rich landscapes – has seen tribal skirmishes over land and cattle for centuries. But today we’re highlighting the Rift Valley for a very different reason: for pioneering a Buddhist ritual.
On March 4th, members of warring tribes came together in the Laikipia Nature Conservancy in the Rift Valley to take part in an ancient Buddhist fire and water ceremony or Saisho Homa. It was, say the organizers, the first time ever this ceremony has been performed in Africa.
Led by one of Japan’s leading Buddhists, Shinsho Ito, the ritual is supposed to promote peace and understanding, the fire representing the wisdom of the Buddha and the water his kindness and compassion.
As the priestess threw wood onto the fire, Japanese priests chanted and Kenyan performers drummed , danced and sang in front of a 10 foot long earthen reclining Buddha that had taken three weeks to make.
All this happened as tensions are rising, as they have time and again, over cattle rustling – already people have been killed and farms destroyed.
Chedotum Moroto, one of the local dancers at the Buddhist ceremony, was optimistic about the impact the event might have. He told the Kenyan paper The Nation that “the song and dance gave them the opportunity to bond with youths from other communities and encouraged them to live together: ‘the ceremony was good because it gave us the opportunity to bond and enjoy the moment together.'”
Read more about the ceremony from a Kenyan perspective in Straight to the Source below